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Performing Women

Girish Karnad

By Lata Singh
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 354, Rs 895.00


Is an editor of an anthology of essays anything more than a compiler? Is she (or he) merely expected to read widely on the subject, string to-gether whatever essays are available (and ideally unpublished), slap on an Introduction in which the contents of the essays are summarized, and dispatch it to the publisher? When I was working in the publishing world, an editor was virtually expected to stamp her personality on the anthology, infusing it with—if I may use the word—a vision. She was expected to work with the individual contributors on their papers, pointing out weaknesses and suggesting improvements. The collaboration between the editor and the contributor could range from elementary operations such as verification of references, proof-reading and excision of needless obscurity and repetition to exploring the direction in which an argument could be developed. Further, since in India many academics have a very limited competence in English, the editor could suggest ways in which the language of the essay could be improved, so the entire book had a uniform linguistic competence. Nothing is more jarring than to move from an elegant composition by someone at home in English to a piece where the writer is struggling with the basic syntax and vocabulary of the language. It is quite normal for European publishers, for instance, to offer their non-English contributors the assistance of a ‘mother-tongue’ reader, whose job is to be on the watch for grammatical errors, slipshod use of vocabulary, wrong linguistic usage and sheer malapropisms. I still believe the editor should take an active role in shaping her anthology. While care needs to be taken that the individual points of view and personalities of the contributors are not misrepresented, it is the responsibility of the editor to give the book a unified feel, a sense of dialogue going on between the different experts in the field. A well-edited anthology can have a personality of its own that is immediately recognizable and which generates its own energy. Sad to say, the present book is a perfect example of the relegation of editorial responsibility. In these essays, there is constant recourse to academic jargon to conceal confused thought. The linguistic abilities of the various contributors are uneven, swinging from confident ease to clumsy handling. I shall not embarrass the contributors by quoting examples. I must however point out that these misplaced fears about hurting a writer’...

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